A Path to 21st Century Proficiency

Many schools are struggling to answer questions about Blended Learning.  What does it look like in practice? How does it redefine the role of the teacher? What will administrators see when they walk in with their effective teaching rubrics?

Many educators posit that blended learning paired with project-based learning will engage students and put them on a path to 21st century proficiency.  Educurious.org is pioneering project-based courses and pairing students with real world experts and mentors in what looks like a very promising model.

USC Hybrid High opened a charter school for at risk students with a very student-centric vision. They would be open seven days a week and at least 12 hours per day, students could check in with a teacher, but students would chart the course for their own learning. Two years later, they are rethinking their model. By some accounts, the first year was a learning experience.  See this Edsurge report. Another recent article in Educationnext implies that increased teacher autonomy may work against innovation in top-down, whole-school redesigns.

It has been my experience that blended classrooms can be powerful places for teaching and learning. One of the biggest transformations for me has been the shift from content dispenser to application monitor.  My students have to take the information they are learning and turn it into something relevant that can be shared with a real world audience. Instead of lecturing, I have 3-5 minute mini-checkins with each student during class as they work to complete a large-scale project.  I answer questions, give them resources, but mostly prod them to work a little faster, because this shift is very difficult for students who are used to worksheets and fill in the bubble tests.

At the end of this school year, I assigned a Vietnam Veteran Interview project as a culminating task for my Vietnam War unit. Parental permission was sought for the project. Students were guided through developing interview questions, which they drafted and revised until they had 20 questions that coalesced into a well thought out conversation. Inappropriate questions like “how many people did you kill?” were vetoed. Students were given a sample transcript and access to several videos featuring Vietnam Veteran interviews. They wrote phone scripts and practiced interviewing each other. They were shown how to keep phone logs with the dates and numbers of the Veterans organizations they contacted. Students who would incur long distance phone charges were allowed to come to class at lunch and use my phone.

Many students finished this project well ahead of the deadline. They submitted six artifacts for full credit: their original interview questions, plus revisions, notes and/or a recording of the interview, a typed transcript, a one page reflection on the assignment, and a phone log. Their work demonstrated a sensitivity and maturity that made me proud. Some of the recordings captured genuine moments of mutual understanding and appreciation between the student and the veteran that transcended my expectations. These students internalized the relevance of this project and documented a visceral, first-hand experience with someone who had served their country. These students became historians.